March 19, 2023 — The Rev. Canon Britt Olson

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Lent 4

It was a time of uncertainty and insecurity.  It was time for an ending and a time to begin.  To move on would mean to let go and to let go would cause grief.   There was both anxiety and excitement.  It was a time of transition.

In case you are wondering, the time which I’m referring to is the one in which Saul is losing the kingship of Israel, while David is rising to become the next King.  This was not a smooth or easy transition.   At the time it wasn’t even clear if the nation would hold together or survive the difficulties that the change in rulers was creating.

You see, Saul was the first King that Israel had ever had.  He was their very own King, not a foreign ruler or dictator.  He had been chosen by God from among them, anointed by the Prophet Samuel and placed to rule at their request.  He was tall and handsome, successful in battle, with five wonderful children and many loyal followers.  He was everything that the people had said they wanted.

But Saul seemed to forget that it was ultimately God who had placed him in this position.  He began to follow only certain parts of God’s commands.  And when he was confronted with his disobedience, he lied.   As a result, Samuel was commanded by God to remove the kingship from Saul and to find another king of God’s choosing.

Before Samuel sets out to find the next King, the Bible makes it clear that this was a painful and difficult time for everyone.  Saul was devastated that he was being rejected as King and refused to give over power.  He refused to accept the loss of his rule.  He became full of grief, anger and bitterness.  He suffered from insomnia and depression.   It was painful and gut-wrenching for Samuel as well. Samuel grieved over Saul for he had been the one to anoint him and bless him as the first king, the hope of Israel.  This would be no easy transition.  It was going to be messy, painful and drawn-out.

What no one knew at the time was that this transition would bring into being the absolute golden age of Israel, the time of the Great King–the Shepherd King David from whom the Messiah was destined to descend.

It takes place in the backwater town of Bethlehem far from the circles of power and influence.  The family from which the next king is to be chosen is a completely ordinary one.  In fact, they are a family whose ancestors include non-Jewish members like Ruth the Moabite and Rahab, the harlot.  They are not pure-blooded or perfect.  They are not special or highly exalted.

Fortunately the oldest son is tall, handsome and very presentable and Samuel is sure that this must be the one God has in mind for the next king.  Instead God answers Samuel with the words that form the very heart of this lesson—an important lesson for Samuel, for the next King, and for God’s people then and now.  The Lord says to Samuel, “…the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Samuel has been looking for the kind of King he thinks would make a great ruler.  He has been seeing with human eyes but he has to learn to see with God’s eyes, with the eyes of his heart.  His own desires have blinded him to the greater gift that God has prepared.  His grief and disappointment have clouded his vision.  God gently prods him to remain open and trusting, to look again and to look more deeply.   Finally, the youngest and most unassuming son, a nobody in the world’s eyes is brought in from the fields and he is the one.  He is David, the shepherd, the great King, the beautiful psalmist and the slayer of giants.

If this were a fairytale, the next scene would be the coronation followed by “they all lived happily ever after.”  But the Bible doesn’t steer away from the fullness of life and there are plenty of difficulties to come.  There are power struggles, death, adultery and murder.  David is guilty of great wrong-doing and terrible errors.  When confronted with his sin, he repents and returns to God and the forgiveness he experiences results in some of the most beautiful psalms we have but the consequences of his actions create problems for generations to come.  He remains God’s anointed King throughout his life but it is not a perfect life or one that is pain-free. 

Still, the lesson that Samuel learned when he first saw David is one that is passed on to each of us in the generations that have come after.  We who follow the Son of David, the Messiah, Jesus the Christ continue to strive to see with the eyes of our hearts, to see others as God sees.  We have even continued the practice of anointing with oil to remind us of the holiness and blessedness of every child of God.  In baptism we use oil and the words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.”

It is true that, like David we will stray from that holy calling.  We may move so far from that state of blessing and acceptance that it seems as though there can be no return.  We may end up in such a place of shame and self-hatred that we kill the love we have been given and end up feeling dead to all that we used to value.  Remorse may make us so numb that we do not even remember who we are.  And yet, God has looked into our hearts, called us by name and entered the very depths to pull us back to life, back to right relationship and back to our right minds. 

In baptism we have been anointed as royalty, as heirs of God, as a kingdom of priests, not because of our outward appearance, our abilities, our piety, our obedience, our sacrifice, our niceness, our good breeding, our ancestors or anything we have or will do.  God called us blessed because God looked into our hearts and saw that it was so.  God sees us as we are, as God made us to be, as the delightful children of a delighted God.  And that anointing that marks us as God’s own forever is visible to God no matter how far we have gone from God or how much darkness we have experienced. 

God has opened our eyes and given to us the gift of sight as well.  God has called us to see with the eyes of the heart.  Like Samuel we are to be prophets who look beneath appearances to see what is real and true and valuable.  Instead of passing the one on the street who looks dirty and scary, we may look with the eyes of the heart and see a brother.  Instead of seeing the sloppy clothes and filthy room of our teenager, we may look with the eyes of our hearts and see the young woman who is seeking for meaning and her place in the world.  Instead of seeing people we are divided against in matters of taste, opinion, politics, worship style or whatever, we may look with the eyes of our hearts and see another child of God.

An ancient monk once described two visions of heaven.  In the first everyone you love is there.  In the second, you love everyone who is there.  When we see with they eyes of the heart we enter into the second vision of heaven.

God reminds us to look beneath appearances and to see as God sees.  We are to look with the eyes of our heart at those who hurt and oppose what we value and to leave room for healing and forgiveness.  We are to look at our community with the eyes of our hearts and to see our brothers and sisters in need, blessed and loved by God and therefore blessed and loved by us.  And finally we are to look within our own hearts, to come openly before the God who knows us, to let go of all that would take us from the love of God and to see ourselves as God’s anointed, holy and blessed ones.  Amen.

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